Reviewer's Rating

In Hamlet (Zagreb, Croatia), the protean quality of the Szekspirowski was visible again, as the beautiful leather chairs were stored away, what is usually the stage was used as extra space for the audience, black chairs were added in front of the galleries and the play was performed on an arena stage.

The title is Hamlet, not Iconoclastic Hamlet, Distorted Hamlet or Hamlet Upside-Down. As such, it is a fraud. In this performance, Claudius and Old Hamlet’s Ghost are one and the same person, going from the text of one character to the other’s without any perceivable transition. The same is true of Gertrude and Ophelia, both interpreted by Nina Violić dressed in an old cream wedding dress, with holes at the armpits and clasped with a safety pin at the back. The groundbreaking differentiation is that as Gertrude the actress smokes, while as Ophelia she does not. One of the consequences of this mystification is that Queen Gertrude and her son Hamlet have the same age. This version begs the question why Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not interpreted by the same actor too.

In this “adaptation” (read destruction), Hamlet kills his former betrothed Ophelia, while in her turn Gertrude kills her son Hamlet (a violent adulteration of Shakespeare’s play).

Thus, two things become aberrant: the comparison between Claudius’s and Old Hamlet’s pictures (which must perforce show the same face) and the priest’s remark that Ophelia’s “death was doubtful”, since there is clearly no hint at suicide.

To the spectator’s shock, Hamlet delivers his “To be or not to be” monologue to Ophelia (concealed by standing characters) and then seamlessly continues the scene with her. Hamlet gives Horatio a pistol, asking him to watch Claudius closely. He has one himself, with which he shoots Polonius twice; the latter does not hide, but comes to rescue Gertrude from Hamlet’s wrath and dies heroically!

To an audience that knows Hamlet, the whole redo is revolting; to one that does not, it is impossible to understand. The sad thing is that at the end they think they have seen Hamlet.

Artistically, the performance is weak; Mikić is the only actor of some talent, but the others are mediocre at best. The innovative conception of the production is that the whole action takes place around a table. After coarsely dancing to Croatian folk music on the table to suggest the wedding, the characters eat, drink, smoke, stare or talk around it. The ventilation system of the Szekspirowski is remarkable, as the billows of smoke cannot be felt from the seats.

All the men are in black – in suits or shirtsleeves. Rosencrantz’s T-shirt reads “Welcome to Malta Festival”. For some reason, Hamlet is dressed like a waiter, wearing an apron (a plain black cloth, not an allusion to free masonry). The apron will be turned into a towel to dry his wet hair after he has been tortured by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (!) and into a shroud, as he covers Ophelia’s dead body with it.

There is only one good/amusing idea: from the beginning, one character cuts meat at the table until he reaches the bare bones. Later we discover he is the gravedigger (there is only one). He then turns into the priest and the bones are used as Ophelia’s remains (her actual body cannot be used, as it is present as Gertrude at the funeral!).

This company is called Zagreb Youth Theatre, but the average age of the actors must be fifty.

Of all the performances in this festival, this was the only one for which there was a queue reaching the street, as the stage director is apparently known as controversial. It is sad that this is what brings people to the theatre nowadays.